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The Science of Food - Marty Jopson ****

This is a tasty little volume, packed with kitchen-based science. I must admit, when I saw that the author was the One Show's science expert and Marty Jopson's author photo has that 'Hey, I'm a mad scientist, kids!' look, my heart fell - I was sure the book would be the written equivalent of a 'Wow, look, aren't I clever, I can make this go bang!' science show - but, in fact, it's packed full of (appropriately) meaty scientific content.

I was really pleased that Jopson didn't stick purely to the chemistry of cooking, but launched with the working of some familiar kitchen gadgets - there was genuinely fascinating reading to be had about apparently humdrum equipment in the form of the physics and materials science of a knife and chopping board. And Jopson took us into industrial kitchens too, to reveal, for example, the remarkable process required to make puffed wheat.

Inevitably, the chemistry of cooking - how, for example, proteins denature and emulsions like mayonnaise work - are well covered too. Though interesting, this is probably the least inspiring part of the book, as it involves covering similar ground on how long chain molecules react to heat, water or each other several times.

There's plenty more, though, despite this being the kind of book you can read on a reasonable length train journey. Again, for example, going against the 'TV scientists are superficial' grain, Jopson gives a really well balanced view on artificial sweeteners and the implications of the many studies using them. He points out, for example, that the studies sometimes quoted showing those using sweeteners don't lose weight because they eat more to compensate is from rat experiments - the studies based on people are inconclusive. 

Later, we've got the science of taste, from chocolate to sprouts, and so it goes on. Food is certainly the linking factor, but by no means all of the book is just about food, and that's a real strength. One of the last sections looks at some aspects of using science to improve crops - here's the only part it seemed there was an obvious omission, as it would have been a good point to re-examine the GM foods debate.

All in all this is a delightful cheese soufflé of a book. Light and tasty but enough content to satisfy the appetite for information.


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Review by Brian Clegg

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